Homeland Security

Lab reduces false radiation alarms at ports

Photo courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Alerts generated by low-level, natural radiation in international cargo such as granite, bananas, ceramic pots and even cocoa powder cost Customs and Border Protection millions of dollars and thousands of hours every year as the items make their way through U.S. ports.

Such material regularly sets off thousands of CBP devices designed to detect dangerous nuclear material, requiring agents to spend time reinspecting the cargo.

To address the problem, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed a way to more efficiently calibrate the detectors to ignore low-level radiation based on a more selective algorithm. CBP is implementing the new settings on its 1,300 radiation portal monitors nationwide, and the lab said the work has been completed on all handheld monitors and at the top 26 seaports and 16 critical land border crossings.

As a result, alarm rates have dropped by an average of 78 percent at seaports and an average of 44 percent at land border crossings, according to the lab. Reductions on mobile monitors are expected to average about 50 percent.

Those reductions have translated to a decrease of more than 230,000 alarms per year and a savings of more than 57,000 hours in processing time. As a result, 88 CBP officers have moved on to higher-priority enforcement duties.

Lab officials said they expect $55 million in savings over the next 10 years because of fewer reinspections for false alarms.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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